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The Finley Effect

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series of articles from some of the most established, respected members of the DLF forum. These articles may not always reflect the opinions the DLF staff, but they will always be high quality & thought provoking, and are intended to provide a platform for sharing the insights and opinions from some of the best ffb minds around. Enjoy! – DLF Staff

With the expected return of a healthy Jermichael Finley, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers add another weapon to their already impressive arsenal.  In limited time as a starter in the 2009 season, Finley recorded 55 receptions and five touchdowns.  Through four games in 2010 he was already at 21 catches and team-leading 301 yards before leaving with a torn meniscus.

As we all know, the injury forced him to be placed on IR and he watched his team go on to win the Super Bowl in early February.  He also watched the Packers struggle to replace his productivity at the TE position, relying on a combination of Andrew Quarless (21 receptions, 283 yards, one touchdown) and Donald Lee (11 receptions, 73 yards, three touchdowns).

The Packers went more to five-wide sets and three-RB sets to create mismatches for the defense.  That led to James Jones and Jordy Nelson having their most productive seasons of the career, as well as Greg Jennings having a bounce-back season from last year.  In fact, Jennings had arguably the best season of his career, matching his career high in touchdowns (12) to go with over 1,200 yards.

Over the last few weeks there’s been quite a bit of  talk and several articles around the Internet suggesting that Jennings’ fantasy value will take a hit with the return of Jermichael Finley.  I’m of the opinion that in actuality it may be quite the opposite.  I could point to several examples around the league where having a great receiving Tight End helps wide receiver production, such as Gates’ effect on Vincent Jackson, Witten’s effect on Miles Austin, or Clark’s effect on Reggie Wayne.

My point is, Finley returning to the Packers offense should be a welcoming sight to Jennings and his fantasy owners.  When the Packers have four or less receivers on the field, he consistently receives the extra attention from the safety over the top, which is one of the reason they started experimenting with the five-wide set.  Finley has that same effect on a defense – when he’s in the lineup, the deep safety has a tendency to creep up to take away the seam route while the strong safety is confined to either supporting the run or taking away the slot receiver.  Either way, Jennings should see similar man-to-man coverage that he saw this season when they were in their five-wide formation.

I know what you’re thinking.  “If Finley comes back healthy and ends up catching around 80 balls for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns, whose stats will he be taking away?”  The answer:  Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson.  While the additional use of the five-wide formation allowed the Packers to exploit mismatches, there isn’t the same need for it when Finley is on the field.  Having his athleticism at the TE position allows them to use more traditional sets while still having an advantage over the defense.

All in all, I believe that Greg Jennings’ stats will be very similar to his 2010 season, albeit coming in an entirely different fashion.  If I had to predict a stat line for him, I would call for a slight increase in receptions and yards and a slight decrease in touchdowns due to fewer targets in the red zone.  I think the “loser” in Finley’s return are the receivers who won’t see as many snaps in the upcoming season.  I think the Packers will re-sign Jones, who is a free agent going into the offseason to solidify the WR3 position, and will have Nelson back as the WR4.

I would expect a big season from Finley if he can stay healthy and another solid season from Jennings as well.  If I’m a James Jones or Jordy Nelson owner, I’m tempering my expectations until Driver finally retires.  If I’m still a Donald Driver owner, I am selling him for anything I can get.

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The1Rat
11 years ago

James Jones continuing drops over the season leave Nelson as the WR3, and Jones looking up at him wondering why. It was Nelson that Rodgers targeted consistently during the SB, even after his drop.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  The1Rat
11 years ago

I can’t sit here and say I know one way or the other who the Packers feel their WR3 is, but I can offer a guess. When I watch the two of them (Nelson & Jones) I see a pretty big difference in their style of play.

I see Nelson as more of a slot receiver who can work the underneath routes and fill the slot role. Jones is more of a typical outside receiver and I could see him slowly taking over Driver’s role in the offense.

Yes, Jones has struggled with drops, but if you’re going to point at the Super Bowl as an example, you have to take note of Nelson’s FOUR drops compared to Jones’ one. Nelson being targeted so many times in the Super Bowl was as much a function of the matchup than it was talent at the position. I think both players are vital to the Packers success, which is why I think Jones is resigned.

Chad
Reply to  Eric Dickens
11 years ago

I’ll take Nelson and a bag of chips.

The1Rat
Reply to  Eric Dickens
11 years ago

I’ll take Nelson as the slot receiver then, as Greg Jennings is the undisputed long-ball guy in GB. Then I’ll point to Wes Welker as the king of slot/possession type receivers, and draw comparisons to Nelson. I’d be content if Nelson emerges as that type of player, and that isn’t far-fetched. My contention is that James Jones is no Donald Driver, and the Packers adjust to that, similar to the Patriots SB teams.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  The1Rat
11 years ago

I don’t see the comparison to Welker, other than being white and playing the slot position. Nelson is much taller, takes longer strides, and isn’t nearly as quick making cuts as Welker. Plus the Packers don’t run a system that’s very similar to the Patriots current one.

As far as the Jones/Driver comparisons, I agree. I don’t think Jones is even in the same class as far as hands go, but is younger, faster, and much more athletic than Driver at this point in his career.

Spinkszo
Reply to  The1Rat
11 years ago

It’s a common mistake to say Jones has taken a backseat to Jordy Nelson because of drops. Jordy Nelson is also afflicted with temporary stone hands. You remember James Jones two massive drops in the playoffs. Against the Eagles and in the SB.
What you’re forgetting is James Jones playing lights out against the Falcans and having massive third down conversions in the SB. During the Super Bowl, Nelson dropped 4 balls. Yes his stat line was better, but he was also going against the steelers dime back.
By no means am I saying that nelson can’t overtake James Jones, I’m saying that neither have outplayed the other to make the assumption. They compliment eachother big time, which will continue to cloud the situation. Jordy Nelson does his best work on the sidelines or 15-20 yards down field. James Jones is pure WCO and is best getting the ball to him on quick passes and letting his athletic ability take over and fight for yards after catch.

And to the writer of this column,
This is my first time to the site, but I’ll be coming back. It’s easy to see that you’re not writing up cookie cutter columns about the packers, which is rare. As someone who hasn’t missed a snap of GBP football since the inception of the Sunday Ticket, I can tell you that I agree 100%. Great job.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Spinkszo
11 years ago

Spinkszo,

I appreciate everything you said. Although the Packers aren’t my team, I don’t know how you can’t appreciate the way they do business and treat their fans.

I’ve watched a ton of Packers games over the past few years and see them trending towards a little bit different kind of offense than the average NFL team. It makes it a lot of fun to watch and turns their offense into one of the most efficient in the NFL.

Glad you joined DLF…jump in with both feet!

MT
11 years ago

I like how your articles are always thinking ahead

Eric Dickens
Reply to  MT
11 years ago

I appreciate that very much. One of the things I love to see is writers taking a stand on what they think and believe in. I know there will be disagreements and being wrong doesn’t bother me like it used to (I’ve been married for almost 10 years now) 🙂

Misfit74
11 years ago

Most of what you said I generally agree with. However, I will say that I don’t think it’s a given that James Jones re-signs. Depending on his agent and what he feels his worth is, he may opt to angle for a bigger deal than what the typically frugal Packers will offer to retain him. He needs a chance to start in order to maximize his value around the league and unless Driver retires, he may opt for a situation with a shorter path to playing-time. I don’t see Green Bay making a heavy push to keep him with Nelson already in the fold and their ability to draft effectively at the position.

My money would be on Jones moving on and Nelson inheriting the WR2/WR3 role depending on Diver retiring or not. That would help solidify Finley and Jennings’ fantasy value as Jennings and Finley would then be the top-2 options on the team (if they are not already). So, even though a lot can change between now and the next football season, we still are left with nearly as many answers as questions about the Packer offense as a whole.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Misfit74
11 years ago

Misfit, I don’t disagree with what you said in a “normal” year, but with the CBA discussions, there are more than the typical amount of FA WR’s out there on the market. I think we may see a lot more FA’s resign with their existing team b/c the market may not give them as high of price as they would normally see being offered.

If Jones indeed does leave Green Bay, then I agree that Nelson will be much more valuable, but that it helps Jennings/Finley the most.

Team Canada
11 years ago

PPL questioned my pick of Jennings in late 2nd. i always thought finley would steal drivers balls not jennings and now i feel a lot better drafting jennings in late 2nd

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Team Canada
11 years ago

Obviously it’s just my opinion, but I think Jennings is pretty good value in the late 2nd, depending on who was left on the board. He’s only 27, in a great offensive system for him, and has arguably one of the best young QB’s in the game throwing to him.

Adam
11 years ago

Firstly, I’m inclined to believe that Driver hangs it up as the Packers all team leading receiver, after the championship and the year he just had battling injuries (a great year, all things considered). Secondly, I expect James Jones to be back with the Packers next year.

Now to the “Finley Factor” as you are calling it. Does his return to the lineup have major fantasy implications for other players in 2011? I would say that his impact is relatively minor compared to the impact of having a respectable running game with the 1-2 punch of Grant and Starks (who will catch some targets out of the backfield) supplemented by the power packages introduced late in the season.

In 2010 the Packers ran the ball 42% of the time, and that includes the scrambles by Rodgers which accounted for ~15% of the rush attempts. One might reasonably expect that percentage of rushing attempts to increase, and Rodgers rushing attempts will taper off after the concussions.

Within the pass game, Jennings catches accounted for less than 15% of the total pass attempts, and less than a quarter of all completions. Jennings is clearly the best option in most situations, and the coaching staff admitted early on that they were favoring Finley early at the expense of Jennings – for those reasons, it is unlikely that you will see a drop off in his targets and catches, though he may see fewer red zone targets. That leaves 75-80% of the targets to be spread between Finley, Jones, Nelson and whom ever else they get involved in the air attack (see Starks, above). Finley is quite obviously a physical freak, but I cannot envision a scenario where this coaching staff shakes things up too dramatically from what brought them a Lombardi. Does Finley get the most targets in this group? I say likely, as he’s a match-up nightmare. Does Finley get the majority of those targets? Highly unlikely. Nelson and Jones are far too talented to ignore, so I expect a hot hand situation evolving which may lead to fantasy inconsistency for both unless one of the two clearly distinguishes himself from the other.

This is a pretty good problem to have.

Sorry for the long post.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Adam
11 years ago

Adam, good breakdown. I agree that a decent running game could have an effect and probably will to some degree. I do think the Packers were already moving towards an offense predicated around the pass to set up the run, different than most teams in the league (and similar to the Saints, Colts for example).

I’m not sure Driver will retire. Early in the season, he mentioned wanting to play two additional seasons and signed an extension to his contract through 2012. I think we might see him for at least another season.

Jermichael Finley
11 years ago

You see Jennings yards per game while I was playing?

with me = 36
w/o me = 92

i pity the fool that drafts Jennings over me next year. I’m the #1 WR in this offense!

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Jermichael Finley
11 years ago

Hey Jermichael, maybe you should stick to football…

Jennings yards when you played were actually an average of 40.25, not 36.

Regardless, there could be several reasons for that, not just an over-simplification based on one thing. Here are just a few possibilities:

-Not that Finley was an unknown headed into the season, but Jennings was clearly the guy defenses were going to make sure didn’t beat them early in the season.
-Individualized game plans
-Opponent strength at CB1 vs LB’s
-Coaching mistake (I included this one b/c after week 5 last season McCarthy went public w/ the fact that it was a mistake on their part to not get Jennings more involved)

Derek
11 years ago

Hey Eric,

Great article man…I pity the fool who has to play in a dynasty league with you…

Derek
11 years ago

Hey Eric,

Great article man…I pity the fool who has to play in a dynasty league with you because you’d probably smoke everyone 2 years in a row…

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Derek
11 years ago

Haha, nice. Good to see you on here man. Thanks for the kind words.

Hot nikkels
11 years ago

Jordy Nelson looked pretty good to me and Jones has some decent upside. With the return of Finley, my feeling is that Jennings will go back to frustrating fantasy owners with inconsistent fantasy output. If Driver hangs it up that should help, but I need to see that along with weekly production with Finley in the mix. You mentioned his TD production could drop. 65-75 receptions, 1000 yards, 6-8 tds? That’s a fringe top 10 WR. I’m a Jennings fan, but I’d be cautiously optimistic about his fantasy output.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Hot nikkels
11 years ago

If I had to put numbers on the season for Jennings, I’d go 79 catches, 1295 yards, 8 TD’s. Slightly higher catches and yards, but less TD’s.

Hot nikkels
Reply to  Eric Dickens
11 years ago

Driver is saying he can’t wait to play next year and his goal is still to play through 40. Could GB let him go? Maybe but that’s gonna eat into 1295 and 8tds. I think I’m gonna get on board with GB being the new new Orleans.

MT
Reply to  Hot nikkels
11 years ago

I agree with you Hot Nikkels—I think your right on with Jennings going back to frustrating fantasy owners next year. I had him and Finley to start the year last year, and with the exception of one game, I was genuinly disappointed with Jennings. I feel that Green Bay is turning into the second coming of the New Orleans offense.

Joe Bidwell
Reply to  MT
11 years ago

I would think his TD numbers do decrease to that 6-8 range with Finley back in the mix. I think his yards drop as well. They have too many weapons in that offense at this point in time. It could easily become a situation similar to the Saints. The ball gets spread around and the word “inconsistency” comes to mind when considering individual players.

Eric Dickens
Reply to  Joe Bidwell
11 years ago

Joe, what makes you think his yards decrease along with TD’s?

I don’t really see Green Bay as having any more weapons than they did the 2nd half of the ’09 season and Jennings stats improved compared to the first half of ’09 without Finley consistently in the lineup.

From what I saw this season, the rise of Nelson & Jones were a product of Finley’s injury and the decrease in Driver’s playing time/productivity. If Finley is back healthy, I look for Jennings to remain consistent.

Joe Bidwell
Reply to  Joe Bidwell
11 years ago

I think we’ll see more out of Jones and Nelson this season. That, along with Finley being back in the lineup and getting back to the ground game with Grant and Starks, his yards will decrease. You have the same weapons in Jennings/Driver/Finley and now Jones and Nelson are emerging more in the offense along with Grant coming back from injury and Starks showing some promise. Aaron Rodgers is a smart QB who sees the whole field and spreads the ball around.

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